Friday, January 29, 2010

Ex Libris: Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind

It's not everyday you get to read a character study in this genre. Though this is in terms more of advancing the narrative than anything else.

Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind is an oft-told tale of the beginnings of a hero, framed by the same hero's narrative at a later time. Obviously, the implication that the protagonist survives the narrative in order to relate it. But fortunately, Kvothe-- who is in hiding or disguised?-- as an innkeeper manages to make the tale lively enough despite wanting to start from the very beginning.

And it's a long tale indeed. By the time the book ends, the younger Kvothe (as narrated by the older Kvothe to a chronicler) has just managed to ensconced himself into an academy of magic. This occurs after his happy childhood is ended by mysterious villains (aren't they all?) and he runs off to the big bad city where he learns how survive and then he gets the realization that he can still become a sorcerer so he flees off to the said academy... *whew*

In the meantime, he keeps running into several characters that would seem to figure prominently in his (future) life and big hints are dropped that would have a bearing on the future (or the past). Likewise, other hints are dropped in the framing story that there's still so much to tell. Like I said, it's a character study in the service of a narrative.

Does it work? What Rothfuss is banking on is that he's made Kvothe more interesting by turning him into more of a trickster character than your usual 2-cent chosen warrior-- or even sorcerous-- hero. And to make this strategy work, he's loaded the dice in Kvothe's favor. A polymath? A genuis? A well-trained actor? Any more and we'd be wandering over into Mary Sue territory.

But Rothfuss doesn't stint on bringing pressure to bear against Kvothe-- whether hunger as an orphan, despair of being alone, ostracism from his peers or a charged-up dragon--that we find ourselves rooting for him as the underdog. And because of Kvothe's hard life, we find that we can sympathize with him.

Sometimes it did make me feel that Rothfuss was taking too long to set-up the bigger issues in Kvothe's life as he becomes a budding sorcerer, the emerging trickster, the fly-in-the-soup of would-be tyrants later in life. Yes, some important events occur-- but looking back-- I don't really think it was enough to make the story all that remarkable.

I suppose what does make the tale worthwhile are the questions raised in the story about the fantasy genre, like: What makes a person's actions heroic? What makes a hero? What makes a legend?

And like earlier stories that have done the same, Kvothe shows that there is no difference between a person, a hero and a legend.It's all the one and the same, the action reflected and refracted on a thousand mirrors until the original can hardly be recognized. (Rating: Two paws out of four.)

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